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Lessons From the Charlie Hebdo Shootings: It All Depends on Whose Symbols are Being Mocked
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02/19/2015 06:41 AM
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It All Depends on Whose Symbols are Being Mocked
Lessons From the Charlie Hebdo Shootings
by KRISTOFFER LARSSON
More than a month has passed since the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris. How should we understand this dreadful massacre? That if you insult a minority that then a few individuals within that group might come after you? Or is it perhaps much worse than that, as some will have us believe, and that freedom of speech is under threat?
Demonstrations were held throughout France supposedly in defence of freedom of speech. As many writers have pointed out, the demonstration in Paris was attended by world leaders that—to put it mildly—don’t seem to find freedom of speech all that important in their own countries. One of the survivors of the shooting, Laurent Léger, lambasted the hypocrisy of Western governments who pretended to stand up for freedom of speech.  In fact, France seized the opportunity to crack down on ‘hate speech’. 
But the world leaders’ presence, despite their faulty records, is nonetheless understandable; they attended the demonstration to express their commiseration, and that’s perfectly fine.
Yet, the ‘freedom of speech’ aspect bothers me. It is an attempt to take this shooting out of its political context, to describe it as a story of two young Muslims who saw a cartoon, and got so angry that they decided to kill eleven people.
The fact of the matter is that the two terrorists didn’t care about freedom of speech (or lack thereof) in France. They were radicalised by the U.S.-led Western interventions in the Muslim world, and in their frustration over the endless killing that’s going on there, they decided to exact vengeance. In their eyes, Charlie Hebdo was a perfectly logical target because it had become a symbol of anti-Muslim mockery.
The message the perpetrators wanted to send is clear: if you continue to attack us, then you’ll pay for it. For a long, long time the West has been able to carry out bombing campaigns, invasions and occupations, stage coups d’état and targeted killings in other parts of the world, without fear of revenge attacks at home. Not so anymore.
Reducing the Charlie Hebdo shooting to a question of freedom of speech is convenient because it allows us to ignore the misery caused by Western interventionism, which ultimately led to the Jihadist resurgence. Massacres and shootings carried out by Muslims, like the ones we saw in France, are now an everyday occurrence in countries that have been ‘blessed’ with Western intervention. Though Islamist groups carry out occasional terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Europe, it is in the Mideast where most of their victims are to be found – and the greater majority of their victims there are Muslim. This is the ‘New Middle East’ that the neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration envisioned when they plotted the Iraq War. 
But this is not the only reason for my scepticism towards the ‘we must stand up for freedom of speech’ crowd. Although this is a right that must be defended, it is important to do so without being hypocritical. Charlie Hebdo mocked Islamic figures, and when they were criticised and threatened for doing it, they made a point of not backing down. Instead, they kept publishing such cartoons, which they have every right to do. While this may seem admirable, or even heroic, the magazine doesn’t always stand its ground.
In 2008 Charlie Hebdo was criticised for ridiculing Judaism. Though the magazine had stood up for freedom of the press when it came to mocking Islam, in that case cartoonist Siné was asked by his editor Philippe Val to apologise. When Siné refused, Val sacked him. Siné also received a death threat on a website run by the Jewish Defence League (JDL). There is clearly a double standard being employed by Charlie Hebdo, and it’s not alone.
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[link to www.counterpunch.org]
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02/19/2015 12:12 PM
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